I can still see myself sitting on the couch, shaking and panicking
I didn’t leave the house for a long time. When my boyfriend left for work, my parents took over so I wasn't alone. I got home care. They helped me shower and get dressed - I could no longer be independent. A chair in the shower allowed me to sit down to take a shower, because I couldn't stand on my feet. There I was, 26 years old and completely dependent on others. I was supposed to meet up with friends, dance at parties, ride through Amsterdam on my scooter. Instead, I lived like an elderly person, and I was always afraid of falling, dying, that my heart would give out. I could no longer walk without someone supporting me. When I had to go to the toilet, my mother literally put me on the toilet seat like a small child. There were plans to buy a wheelchair and walker for me. And I just thought, how the hell could my life change like that?
Five years ago I had my breasts enlarged.
My 65 A cup has always been my biggest insecurity. While my friends' breasts grew, I got stuck with the smallest bras. A full bosom was my ideal, and as a teenager I was already saying that I wanted a breast augmentation. My parents didn’t want anybody cutting into my healthy body and hoped that I wouldn’t proceed with my plan. But when I was 22, I went to see the plastic surgeon and paid for the breast augmentation from my savings. I woke up from anesthesia with a full D cup, and I was so happy with the result. Finally I had a beautiful cleavage and was able to buy nice bikinis. Finally, I was no longer mistaken for a fourteen-year-old. The times I had to show my ID at the counter when I bought wine were impossible to count. That bothered me, and now I felt like a mature, sexy woman.
I remember exactly when the trouble started. On July 20 last year I was on holiday on the beach in France. Around seven o'clock in the evening we walked to a beach bar. There were only ten steps to take up to the bar, but when taking them my heart started to beat crazily, as if I was running a marathon. I could no longer breathe and lost my balance. "Help, I can't breathe anymore," I managed to say. Everyone thought I was hyperventilating. I sat down, drank a glass of coke, and when I thought it was OK I got up - but after 20 meters I completely collapsed. Everything revolved around me and my heart just kept pounding fast. I went to the hospital; a heart scan was made. Nothing crazy going on, I was told: I just passed out according to the doctor.
Back in the Netherlands, I started to suffer more and more from extreme heart palpitations.
I didn't understand what was wrong with my body. At work, on the scooter, in the shower or on the couch: I got ‘attacks’ everywhere. I could no longer keep up with my work as a presenter, so I sat at home all day. My boyfriend had to go to work, but I didn't dare to be left alone. “I’m going to die”, I thought countless times. I was terrified that my heart would stop, that it wouldn't keep beating anymore. At least ten times in three weeks I went to the GP with my complaints. Seven times, I was in an ambulance because my heart was beating extremely fast and irregularly. However most times I was sent away from the emergency room with the message that they couldn’t find the cause of my complaints.
I was examined by cardiologists, neurologists and an ENT doctor because they suspected a balance disorder. Again and again, blood tests were made, but no meaningful answers came. Nobody made a diagnosis, and I was sent from pillar to post. But I knew from day one, there on that French beach, that my breast implants were to blame. Before the first incident, I felt some kind of dents when I rubbed my breasts. Strange, I thought. After the vacation in France, I had an ultrasound made of my breasts. All looked fine, and I accepted what the radiologist said… there was a nice, thick capsule formation around the prostheses. The cardiologist also dismissed everything when I suggested that my implants might have something to do with my problems. It was really “not possible”, I was told over and over again. In fact, an emergency room doctor said bluntly that it was all psychological: "It's in your head. Go to a psychiatric clinic." Fortunately, I always knew I wasn't crazy. I knew there was something wrong in my body. I found it disgusting and frustrating that I was not listened to.
At Christmas, I was with a friend of my parents - a urologist.
I immediately made an appointment at the hospital to have my prostheses removed. After one month and a half, I was operated. Two weeks prior to the operation I read on the internet that my type of implants, from the Allergan brand, had been banned since last year because they were unsafe due to leaking silicones. I didn't search on Google before, since I didn’t know the certificate number of my implants at the time (I only found out later in the investigation). I turned white, and shouted that I would prefer to rip those things out of my breasts myself. I felt like I had two ticking time bombs in my body, and I was really angry that I hadn’t been notified about this. These prostheses have long since been recalled in France and America
Women receiving messages, and going into surgery to have them removed. It’s a mystery to me why this is not happening in our own country. It’s probably a matter of money, since it’s too expensive to have all these women undergoing surgery. And plastic surgeons sign contracts which are dependent on hospitals and suppliers - this is actually a very shadowy world. Naturally, I asked my plastic surgeon about that recall. He admitted that my prosthetics had now been banned, but claimed they were unlikely to be the cause of my symptoms. He had never experienced anything like it. But my decision was made: those things had to be taken out.
The prostheses were removed two months ago.
During the operation, the capsular contracture was scraped from my breasts and then examined pathologically. They found leaked silicone particles, which have also spread further through my body and organs. There is a good chance that my complaints came from this, the doctor told me a week after the operation, while removing my stitches. Finally it was proven, and I had it in black and white. I was angry and relieved at the same time. My body now has to break down the silicone particles by itself, which will take a number of months. I drink a lot of water, and eat detoxifying foods, and I’m making slow progress. The first time I rode my bike across my street again, I thought it was fantastic. I felt released, as if I came from prison. Doing my own shopping again was also an euphoric moment.
I worry less about things. My view on social media has changed. I no longer drive to the other side of the city to pose in front of a nice wall, I find a nice picture less important. Health is the most important thing - a cliché, but so true. I now want to focus on what I like and find interesting: helping other people. That's why I made a documentary about my experiences, which is now online. I can still get furious that I was not taken seriously by all of those doctors. But I don't get anywhere with anger. I prefer to share my experiences, and warn other people. Every prosthesis is a potential assassin in my eyes. When I look on Instagram, I think: where is it going? To anyone with augmented lips and breasts - to girls who are considering breast implants - I want to say, “Don't do it, you're beautiful just the way you are.” Now I have my old cup back, I am so happy with that. I am 1.60 meters and very petite. Big breasts don't even suit me. Actually, I've always been beautiful. If only I had seen that earlier.
TEXT: Anne Broekman